Las Palmas chocolate factory becomes a glamorous bed and breakfast
These days, Las Palmas in the Canary Islands is like Mallorca was in the late 1990s – a well-worn charter destination about to become a great choice for a city break.
Those behind the change include Finnish architect and designer duo Sirkku Hölttä and Mikael Westermark. Westermark is an architect with his own design company, while Hölttä trained at the Finnish Art Academy and runs a number of interior design projects. They bought a run-down building in Vegueta, which was the city’s administrative center in the 16th century. The building, last used as a chocolate factory, had stood abandoned for 30 years.
The neighbors shake their heads at the wacky woman wearing paint- and cement stained overalls, who seems to work 24 hours a day. People know the couple are not rich, and their hard work has won great respect.
“One of the neighbors said he prayed for us every day,” Hölttä says. “The priest wanted to bless the building, which is now full of hustle and bustle.”
‘You can’t change the crazy rules that make fire safety less important than the bathroom hair dryers’
The idea was to renovate the building and construct apartments that would be sold through their own company, Vegueta Homes. Then the Spanish financial crisit hit, so Hölttä and Westermark instead decided to develop short-term rentals for tourists. Their first renovation was a 145sqm duplex, which was then rented out through the website Airbnb. Once they saw how successful this was, they rented out their home and moved into the chocolate factory. The rental income funded the renovation of one room at a time, and as more and more guests check in, finances improved.
Dealing with complex permits and regulations in a foreign language is no easy task. The fact that government organizations are in conflict with one another doesn’t make it any easier. Frustration was ever present until they established a network of important islanders who taught them that everything is about playing for time.
“It’s impossible to do everything right,” Hölttä says. “The main thing is that you don’t break the law. You can’t change the crazy rules that make fire safety less important than the bathroom hair dryers. It makes life easier if you just play the game.”
They’ve been working on the chocolate factory for five years now.
“We’re entrepreneurs,” Westermark says.
The old factory is made up of five charming bedrooms, a small modern studio with a kitchenette, and a large duplex apartment with a private terrace. A beautiful spiral wooden staircase connects the three floors, which sit around a traditional Canaries patio, with lush potted plants and a bubbling fountain. Hölttä sourced the furniture and other features at flea markets, antique stores, and auctions, as well as on the street.
“Life is becoming easier, and satisfied guests are our reward,” Hölttä says. “We feel at home now. Having two cultures is amazing.”
Text: Elisabet Garcia Dahlbäck/Be inspired travel
Published: December 6, 2018